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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 4227

Mr FISHER (Mallee) - Together with my colleague, the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon), I am in general agreement with the objectives of this Bill. However, I think that the development of some of the remarks made in this debate already is worthwhile. For a country such as Australia industrial research and development are of vital importance despite the fact that Australia, in common with many other medium sized industrial countries, can in general import by adaptation many of the results of research and development elsewhere. However, Australian conditions, it should be emphasised, dictate the need for an original approach and an original resolution of research and development programs.

To illustrate my argument, I take the POBtion of rural research. In rural industry many of the advances of the past quarter of a century have occurred because of the successful application of scientific principles and practices to farming. These principles and practices have been successful because they have been developed for Australian conditions. As a result, they have taken account of the limiting factors, such as environmental conditions, facing Australian farmers. When one takes an introspective look at research and development in Australia with relation to legislative policy one is disturbed by 2 characteristics. Firstly, there is a very small amount of money spent on research in Australia.

Secondly, what money is spent often fails to take into account the socio-economic aspects of the implementation of the findings of research and the lack of integration of our research and development efforts. Before continuing, I quote from a paper by Mr E. J. Prince, published in August, on the role of the legislature in science policy. Mr Prince, last year's Commonwealth Parliamentary Fellow, made the following point:

As conventional wisdoms lose currency, so often do they appear simplistic and elementary at a later date. Among the conventional wisdoms of the sixties was one that assumed a close and direct relationship between the absolute level of resources invested by a nation in research and development and the rate of economic growth.

Continuing, Mr Prince said:

The weight of evidence points to the conclusion that the relationship between research and development and economic growth is far more complex than that originally postulated.

Unfortunately, although wisdoms change, it becomes evident that it is more difficult to change the trust of legislation with regard to science unless there is a recognition on the legislature's part that science itself in a fastchanging world needs either flexible legislation or legislation under constant review by legislators in an attempt to keep abreast of research and development advances. Earlier, I said that I agreed with the general objectives of the Bill. However, I believe that there is a need for the Government to take stronger steps towards integrating its research efforts.

I am not calling for over-centralisation of research effort but for greater integration, so that the possibility of greater effectiveness and efficiency can flow out of research efforts. I believe there is a need to have a continuing overall review of research today, undertaken in full or in part with public funds, whether it be by this Government or its agencies, the State governments or their agencies, and industry, wherever practicable, to ensure that the research under way or planned is needed and that the results of the research meet the socioeconomic aspects of the people.

If I may develop my last point further, it is ridiculous to use research funds to develop a new container for, say, a generally used commodity, if consideration is not given to the cost of the container to the consumer, the real need of the consumer for a new container, and the ease with which a consumer could dispose of the container without causing an excessive litter problem. In any move towards an overall continuing review of the national research effort, I see a strong necessity for a critical analysis of the national priorities for research, as well as a national information data bank among researchers. However, this must not impinge on the original discovery rights of researchers and must respect their desire, if expressed, for confidentiality. Perhaps the Ministry for Science is the appropriate body for this co-ordination.

Such a strengthened role for the Department of Science would stimulate research in Australia and lead, I suggest, to economies in research operations, which could successfully be employed in any urgent research project. It is not insignificant to me that this Bill, which serves as the major bridge between the Government and industry with regard to industrial research, is administered by the Department of Secondary Industry, which I doubt is overburdened with research-oriented personnel. This is not a reflection on the Department, because the same argument holds for researchfunding activities exercised by other departments. The Department of Science, which is the Department one would logically expect to be intimately involved in science research and development, is hardly considered in the allocation of research funds. The Department is not even a net of review between the tennis, players of all research-funding departments and the researchers.

Appreciating that the Bill is only an interim measure, I urge the Government to ponder the rationale for a greater measure of integration in our research efforts. I ask the Government to consider also that there is a greater need for the legislature to have better communication between the multiple-funding sources for research and the researchers themselves, whether they be social scientists, physicists, applied scientists, chemists or management scientists, so that we can in the future legislate for the science needs of the nation, bearing in mind the total aspirations of the community. Such a step could be taken by this House in considering the appointment of a House committee on science or, alternatively, the House setting up an office such as the United States Office of Technological Assessment that could examine development in science, whether science is being restricted by legislative strictures, and whether the research results being achieved are what was envisaged when the projects were being financed.

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